The Landmark of Milestone

I wish I had a good picture of the whole gang but this is the best I could turn up, a photo of the "Milestone For Kids Magazine" staff with the Milestone Media founders, circa spring 1993. Back row, left to right: Jason Medley, Matt S. Wayne, me. Middle row, left to right; Christine N. Gilliam, Jason Scott Jones, Erica Rodriguez, Noelle C. Giddings, Derek T. Dingle, Michael Davis, Denys B. Cowan. Front row, left to right: Jacqueline Ching, Joseph Illidge. Anybody out there got some more complete group shots they want to send me?

Making Comics Multicultural

"It's something that's been in the air for as long as I've been in the business," says Milestone Media's editor in chief Dwayne McDuffie. "Anytime you'd have a couple of black guys get together and stand around in the hall, they'd start talking about what they couldn't do that they wanted to do." The problem was trying to express an African American sensibility in a business run by whites, even well-meaning ones. That was the reason for the 1992 creation of Milestone, a comic book company owned by African-Americans. When Milestone's comics were published the following year, they were printed and distributed through a special arrangement with DC Comics. "I'm passionately dedicated to Milestone," says DC president Jenette Kahn. "The Milestone characters are so genuinely conceived and so well-executed that I really want to see them put on the map in as many ways as possible."

The Milestone super hero characters were created by the company's owners in a series of meetings held before DC was even approached. The Milestone principals include writer-editor Dwayne McDuffie, artist and creative director Denys Cowan and president Derek Dingle; a fourth partner, Michael Davis, quickly dropped out to run Motown Animation. Dingle had worked for business publications, including the Wall Street Journal, and had known Cowan when they were children; Cowan and McDuffie had become friends while working for Marvel Comics in the late 1980s. McDuffie credits Cowan for setting things in motion: "Denys had been saying for years that we just ought to get together and do it. And one day he called me, he called Derek Dingle, he called Michael Davis and he said 'It's time, let's just do this.'" Eager to overcome the restrictions that they felt working on characters owned by Marvel, Cowan and McDuffie quickly realized that only a substantial number of new heroes could provide them with the freedom they wanted. "If you do a black character or a female character or an Asian character," explains McDuffie, "then they aren't just that character. They represent that race or that sex, and they can't be interesting because everything they do has to represent an entire block of people. You know, Superman isn't all white people and neither is Lex Luthor. We knew we had to present a range of characters within each ethnic group, which means that we couldn't do just one book. We had to do a series of books and we had to present a view of the world that's wider than the world we've seen before."

The team ended up with a 400-page "bible" that described numerous characters inhabiting the "Dakota Universe," centered around a fictional city in the Midwest. "Denys did these incredible character designs for that," McDuffie says, "and then we started thinking how we could get this to the widest possible market, because we didn't want to do great books that nobody ever sees." That brought the Milestone owners to DC. "It just struck me that this was a place where we might be able to try something new, something that hadn't been tried before. DC seemed open to new things, and after a couple of meetings with Jenette Kahn and Paul Levitz, I was completely won over."

Milestone's first comic book was Hardware #1 (April 1993). Written by McDuffie with pencils by Cowan and inks by Jimmy Palmiotti, it is the story of a brilliant black scientist named Curtis Metcalf who works for a powerful industrialist but is denied a share of the profits from his inventions. When he discovers that his boss is also a corporate criminal, Metcalf creates a series; of innovative devices that turn him into a high-tech super hero called Hardware. "People always say that the book is about race, but it's not. It's about fathers and sons," McDuffie says. "The one thing that always struck me funny is that no one ever comments on the fact that the first issue of Hardware is specifically about us leaving Marvel."

Icon, the third Milestone title, made its debut in May and is perhaps the most popular, although McDuffie says "all the books are pretty close together. People who like them tend to buy them all." Icon is a black super hero and a political conservative who must be convinced to use his powers to help others. The agent of change is a fifteen-year-old girl who becomes his sidekick, takes the name Rocket and in issue 3 turns out to be pregnant (but not by Icon). Icon has been called "the black Superman" because, McDuffie says, "in the first two pages of the first issue I parodied the Superman origin. Past that there isn't much to it, because Icon isn't really about Icon. It's about the girl, Rocket."

McDuffie is one of the best writers in comics, and his scripts are full of ideas in action; he, Cowan and Dingle created the original Milestone characters, but they are not the whole creative staff. Cowan did most of the debut covers, but M. D. Bright did the pencils for Icon #1; McDuffie co-wrote Static #1-4 before turning it over to his collaborator Robert L. Washington III and penciller John Paul Leon. Subsequent titles, including Blood Syndicate, Kobalt, Shadow Cabinet, Xombi and Deathwish, have introduced a more racially diverse pool of writers and artists to a mainstream audience. As McDuffie observes, "There were a lot of really good people out there who weren't being heard from."

-Les Daniels

Excerpted from DC COMICS: SIXTY YEARS OF THE WORLD'S FAVORITE COMIC BOOK HEROES by Les Daniels. © Copyright 1995 by DC Comics.


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